Bangla-desh has expressed its interest to participate in next year’s SDG voluntary national review (VNR) which will be placed before the UN in July 2020. In a letter to the President of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, Bangladesh’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN indicated that the government will submit a VNR report describing our experiences, including our successes, challenges and lessons learned during the five years of implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will convene the 2020 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in New York from July 7-16 July, 2020.
Each country that willingly engages with the UN to prepare and present the VNR report to the HLPF commits to undertake a cooperative and nation-wide process. Accordingly, it is expected that all the stakeholders in Bangladesh’s SDG initiative will be asked by the government to provide input for our VNR. While the UN guidelines call for intense stakeholder engagement, this requirement may be of concern for Bangladesh since it has been reported at an international conference last month at Harvard University that the country is not yet experiencing the level of collaboration that’s necessary. At the official level, the Chief Coordinator for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office is sanguine about the year-long process. Various officials have voiced optimism that Bangladesh is already working to make these efforts more inclusive, bringing together the private sector, NGOs, civil society organisations (CSOs), members of the media, and many others.
This is the second time Bangladesh has joined a select group of nations which have provided VNR, a progress report on SDG implementation. Earlier in 2017, Bangladesh completed its first VNR in accordance with the UN General Assembly resolution 70/1 which created High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to be convened each year in July under the auspices of the ECOSOC. HLPF adopts negotiated declarations, reviews commitment and the progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Bangladesh’s second VNR will follow the guidelines provided by the UN, which implies that GOB is expected to deliver the Main Message around mid-May 2020 and the VNR report in mid-June 2020. These dates would be finalised in the coming months, once the theme is announced by the President of ECOSOC.
As of October 10, 2019, there are 54 countries intending to participate in the VNRs in 2020. Additional countries had volunteered to present, but the ECOSOC Bureau agreed to give priority to first- and second-time presenters, and those that did not present in 2019. It has been variously reported that in most of the countries that will come to NY next July, progress has been very slow and they are struggling to be inclusive.
In Bangladesh, the Prime Minister’s SDG Directorate will undertake an assessment of the progress and communicate it to the UN. As mentioned, Bangladesh has some experience in the process since it participated in the 2017 VNR. In the 2017 report, the government highlighted the significant achievements made during the first two years, i.e., 2015-17. While the SDG encompasses 17 goals, the country report focused on seven thematic areas namely poverty, hunger, health, gender, infrastructure, life under water, and means of implementation. This narrower focus was driven by the overarching theme of 2017, which was “Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World”.
Incidentally, about a third of countries, or 30 percent, addressed all the SDGs. A similar number of countries (28 percent) covered the set of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17 that were subject to in-depth review at the 2017 HLPF. Other countries (or 42 percent) included a set of goals of their choosing, based on national priorities.
The VNR countries are expected to submit comprehensive written reports that will be made available in the VNR database. In addition, each VNR country will also provide a Main Message summarising key findings. These main messages are also posted in the VNR database.
So, what can Bangladesh do this time around? First of all, it is to be noted that since Bangladesh is presenting for the second time, the report needs to address the gaps identified in 2017 and document progress on the goals left out in the last report. Secondly, in a letter from the ECOSOC President on September 12, 2019, details of the July 2020 meeting are given. The VNRs will begin on Monday, July 13, 2020 and proceed for the three days of the ministerial segment of HLPF (14-16 July 2020). In accordance with past practice, countries presenting a VNR for the first time will be allocated 30 minutes each in the programme; countries presenting a VNR for the second time, including Bangladesh will be allocated 20 minutes each in a panel format.
Thirdly, the PMO ought to pay close attention to the requirements of VNR which aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The VNRs also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilise multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the SDGs. Therefore, it is also a good idea for the government to showcase some of the initiatives in the following areas, which cut across the SDG categories: leave no one behind, data limitations, multi-stakeholder participation, and progress in the areas of climate change.
Leaving no one behind is one of the key principles of the 2030 Agenda. Our report must attempt to quantify the number of people who are at risk of being left behind, including persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ persons, victims of domestic violence, older persons, Rohingya migrants, the underemployed, villagers in remote areas, and residents in deprived pockets of the northern districts.
It is widely recognised that effective follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda requires the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of an unprecedented amount of reliable, timely, accessible, and sufficiently disaggregated data. Bangladesh did a superb job in the Data Gap report and the identified gaps in data and methodology. What has been the progress so far in this area?
Across the globe, the top three data challenges highlighted by countries in 2017 include the lack of disaggregated data, the lack of capacity in data collection and management, and insufficient financial and technical support. To address these issues Bangladesh, like other countries, could branch out to new data sources, involving stakeholders and by mobilising resources through multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Last, but not least, it would be a good idea to report on the progress to fight the virus of corruption. Various stakeholders have identified significant barriers which hamper our efforts to boost investment, and corruption is regularly rated as number one. Bangladesh, like other countries including Nepal and Philippines, could showcase its fight against corruption and report our progress on the UN’s “Innovative Approach” website.
Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist and works in information technology. He is Senior Research Fellow, International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), a think-tank in Boston, USA.